Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Slav Trade

Of this slave trade, which flourished down to 1783, when the Crimea was finally conquered and annexed to Russia, we have a graphic account by an eyewitness, a Lithuanian traveller of the sixteenth century. "Ships from Asia," he says, "bring arms, clothes, and horses to the Crimean Tartars, and start on the homeward voyage laden with slaves. It is for this kind of merchandise alone that the Crimean markets are remarkable.
 Slaves may be always had for sale as a pledge or as a present, and every one rich enough to have a horse deals in them. If a man wishes to buy clothes, arms, or horses, and does not happen to have at the moment any slaves, he takes on credit the articles required, and makes a formal promise to deliver at a given term a certain number of people of our blood—being convinced that he can get by that time the requisite number. And these promises are always accurately fulfilled, as if those who made them had always a supply of our people in their courtyards. A Jewish money-changer, sitting at the gate of Tauris and seeing constantly the countless multitude of our countrymen led in as captives, asked us whether there still remained any people in our land, and whence came such a multitude of them. The stronger of these captives, branded on the forehead and the cheeks and manacled or fettered, are tortured by severe labour all day, and are shut up in dark cells at night. They are kept alive by small quantities of food, composed chiefly of the flesh of animals that have died—putrid, covered with maggots, disgusting even to dogs. Women, who are more tender, are treated in a different fashion; some of them who can sing and play are employed to amuse the guests at festivals. When the slaves are led out for sale they walk to the market-place in single file, like storks on the wing, in whole dozenschained together by the neck, and are there sold by auction. The auctioneer shouts loudly that they are 'the newest arrivals, simple, and not cunning, lately captured, from the people of the kingdom (Poland), and not from Muscovy;' for the Muscovite race, being crafty and deceitful, does not bring a good price. This kind of merchandise is appraised with great accuracy in the Crimea, and is bought by foreign merchants at a high price, in order to be sold at a still higher rate to blacker nations, such as Saracens, Persians, Indians, Arabs, Syrians, and Assyrians. When a purchase is made the teeth are examined, to see that they are neither few nor discoloured. At the same time the more hidden parts of the body are carefully inspected, and if a mole, excrescence, wound, or other latent defect is discovered, the bargain is rescinded. But notwithstanding these investigations the cunning slave-dealers and brokers succeed in cheating the buyers; for when they have valuable boys and girls, they do not at once produce them, but first fatten them, clothe them in silk, and put powder and rouge on their cheeks, so as to sell them at a better price. Sometimes beautiful and perfect maidens of our nation bring their weight in gold. This takes place in all the towns of the peninsula, but especially in Kaffa." 

From Russia, vol. 2 (1877), by Sir Donald McKenzie Wallace, p. 73.

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